Thursday, September 03, 2009

Electric Dirt



I've been listening to Levon Helm's latest recording, Electric Dirt, in the car lately. I just let it play over and over and over and I never seem to tire of it. This is the followup to Mr. Helm's so-called "comeback album", Dirt Farmer, a fantastic, rootsy, passionate collection of music. So this album is called Electric Dirt, and the title indicates that this collection of tunes is more firmly rooted in blues and rock 'n roll than the last group of songs. It occurred to me that it was also a nod to the late great Muddy Waters, and his 1968 album Electric Mud, which mixed up traditional blues and psychodelia.

Electric Dirt features a great selection of songs, with crisp, relaxed production by Larry Campbell. I really enjoy the interplay between Helm's singing and the backup singers. This record may be Electric Dirt but it still features plenty of fiddle and mandolin, and yes, accordion.

Levon Helm, once the drummer for Ronnie Hawkins' band The Hawks, which later became The Band, has re-emerged in his later career as a musical force to be reckoned with. I'd love to see his band play a live show!

6 comments:

zydeco fish said...

I've been impressed by what I've heard. Might have to pick this one up.

Candy Minx said...

I've seen Helm perform live a couple of times, he's an excellent show. He's also one of the nicest people. The New Yorker had a great line about Helm...it really stuck in my head "When he was young, he sounded like a wise old man. Now he sounds like an oracle". One of the things that I find so valuable about this new rock of Helm's is that like, Earle, they are rejecting the notion of separating folk, rock, pop or country...reminding us that popular music is every bit a part of the tradition of country and rock and comes from and for the people.

I loved his performance in "Three Burials"...it serves as one of those examples the Oscars should have a category for "best cameos"...but they don't. (Like Alec Baldwin in "Glen Garry Glen Ross", or Mike Myers in "Inglorious Bastereds") A few weeks ago I saw a little film on Levon Helm's blog...here:

http://www.myspace.com/levonhelm

Of course, I love the lyrics from "Poor Old Dirt Farmer"...something I've been saying for years...

"poor old dirt farmer he's a lost all his corn..."

Poor old dirt farmer has to move to the city and create vertical farms that don't grow corn. Sad in some ways...but a little bit of life is about figuring out that corn was a dumb thing to grow in the first place...time to grow some practical nutritious food...not in the wilderness...but in the cities.

SeƱor Steve said...

And we are so lucky to have Levon Helm with us still. It was touch and go there for awhile.

His monologue as a much younger man in "The Last Waltz" about the music of Memphis is a classic.

How cool it would be to attend one of his "Midnight Rambles" up there in The Barn, wherever that is.

mister anchovy said...

That reminds me, I have to pick up a dozen cobs of fresh Ontario sweet corn and make another batch of my rapidly becoming famous spicy corn chowder this weekend!

Steve, I think Mr. Helm's place is near Woodstock NY. It would be great to attend one of those events. I've heard they're amazing.

Candy, I think you are right that both Mr. Helm and Mr. Earle don't worry much about genre. So much of the music they play is drawn from a broad spectrum of American musical traditions. I don't know that they're rejecting anything though, so much as building something. But then, that isn't new.

That reminds me, I was listening to some old Dr. John music not so long ago, music that was dressed up to look like rock 'n roll, but in the fullness of time, it's so clearly traditional New Orleans music he was playing even back then, just positioned a little differently. In an earlier post, I featured the Sir Douglas Quintet. They were being marketed as if they were a "British Invasion" act, but geez Louise, they were playing the same Tex Mex that Doug Sahm revitalized with the Texas Tornados all those years later - in some cases, even the same tunes.

Candy Minx said...

Corn is okay like a sacred plant once a year. Best left for rare occassions eaten in a pagan ceremony of requiem for the tragedy of abusing the land. We need to not give farmers loans...but huge grants to move to the cities. I have actually lived on a farm and worked a ranch. I know of what I speak. It is far too anti-social a life and a war crime we treat farmers like slaves isolating them from human community that also died. Give them a LOT of money to live in the city and grow food here with us...meeting people seeing where their labour is tied to all of us.

I believe the band Sir Doug Q had a sense of humour mocking the British Invasion bands with their names. Quite clever of them. British Invasion being a great joke since the colonizing done Europe (and all totalitarian economies) had raped all of North America. Shame on that past symbolized by the totalitarian decadence of the corn fetish.

Well, I believe the assimilation of all music which travels like the folk tales and oral narratives of all people is embraced by Helm and Earle. Even Richard Thompson made a fabulous album of history of music ending with a Britney Spears cover song. Only suits and record executives care about rejecting pop music or labeling genres in order to make money. Worse though is when anyone gives in to hating of any music or musician. At least the executives have obvious motives. Adventurous spirits know to assimilate assimilate assimilate while riffng on diversity.

Death to videodrome, long live the new flesh!

mister anchovy said...

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